Posts Tagged ‘travel’

It is no secret that I love Korean food — from bibimbap to gamjatang, there aren’t many dishes here that I’ve tried and haven’t loved. That being said, eating in Thailand was one of the richest culinary experiences I’ve ever had. The tropical cuisine is complex, savory and full of contrasts — sweet and sour, creamy and spicy — and uses lots of umami in the dishes.

Our first day of travel was met with some dismal dishes from the airplanes we rode in. To be fair, the food was better than on most planes, but it was seriously lacking substance. Oh, and the bread tasted like plastic — I suspect the chemicals from the wrapper leeched into the bread when it was warmed up. Clearly, I ignored this part of both meals.

The first one consisted of fried rice, which was decent. I ate all  of it, but left the rest of the plate untouched. The rice actually came with a side of gochuchang, a Korean red bean paste that I’m pretty obsessed with, so that gave the cardboard cuisine some oomph.

The second meal was less memorable than the first. I ate the rice, ignored the “chicken” and ate the canned fruit. Eh.

Upon arriving in Bangkok, we immediately ordered a plate of fresh fruit and was given an array of pineapple, papaya and watermelon. The fruit was perfectly ripened, fresh, juicy, sweet and tasted like heaven after our day of airplane food.

This inspired many more plates of fruit during the duration of our vacation. Perfect!

Koh Samui, the small island where we spent our trip, is well known for it’s seafood so that was the dominant source of our energy during our stay. We noshed on everything under the sea :)

Our first day in town, Evan and I unloaded our backpacks, changed out of our sweaty travel gear and headed to our guesthouse restaurant for some Koh Samui eats. It was there we ordered the first of many plates of pad thai, and it instantly hooked me. Spicy and nutty at once, the noodles were perfectly cooked and everything was balanced with crisp vegetables and a splash of lime.

Another plate of the country’s signature dish:

That evening, we strolled to a gorgeous restaurant down the road in bustling Chaweng Beach for some fish dishes. I opted for a grilled salmon fillet (which I hadn’t had in nine months, thankyouverymuch) while Evan chose the ahi tuna. Both dishes were served with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and a lemon sauce with fresh tomato.

The fish was moist and succulent. It felt so nice to get my omega-3s and enjoy a plate of seriously delectable food — all for around $10 each. The potatoes were soft and fluffy, and we practically licked the tangy sauce off of our plates, it was that good.

Despite the lack of formidable foreign cuisine in Jeonju, this meal was the only semi “foreign” fare that we had during our stay in Thailand. To come to a country with such a rich selection of cultural food and only eat spaghetti or tacos would be a total waste.

We did, however, deviate for breakfast. I couldn’t pass up beans on toast or the breakfast wrap I had. Western breakfast is somewhat of a luxury in our town.

The next day, we met up with Mimi and Matt after their long trip from the States. The four of us changed, then headed down to the dock where we would catch a ferry to Koh Phangan for the New Year’s Eve party. While we waited, we ordered some street food for a quick dinner.

We had a huge variety of carts from which to choose — everything from skewered meat and egg rolls to noodles and sweet potato pastries. In the end, we all bought and taste-tested different dishes.

I chose a rice and vegetable dish, mixed together in a spicy sauce and topped with roasted nuts (chickpeas maybe?) and served with cabbage. I gobbled it up so quick that Evan had to order another bag! Matt and Mimi chose an awesome green curry (another thing I couldn’t get enough of in Thailand). We also got a few egg rolls (yum) and Mimi picked a sweet dessert.

We danced our pants off at the beach that night, got back to the hotel at 9 AM (eek!) and passed out until it was time to hunt for dinner. We grabbed a hotel cab to Fisherman’s Village in Bo Phut, a quieter and calmer beach compared to the chaos and masses of backpackers that lined Chaweng.

We ended up dining at a great place called Starfish, where we ordered appetizers and four main dishes to share. Dining was only second best to seeing our friends in the flesh — every time we ate, we used the same system of ordering a lot and sharing everything. That way, everyone was able to taste the excellent grub. I am all for family style meals!

At Starfish, we noshed on whole snapper stuffed with lemongrass, pad thai, yellow Thai curry, glass noodles with prawns, seafood coconut milk soup and caprese salad. All washed down with red wine and Chiang. It was a particularly special night, marking the anniversaries of both Evan and I and Matt and Mimi!

For dessert, we picked up three pancakes from this guy, who was dubbed “the pancake man.” He made thin crepes with a methodical method, entertaining his customers while he made drool-worthy food to order. Our coconut/chocolate, banana/lemon/sugar and nutella/banana concoctions took about 10 minutes (at least) but they were most definitely worth the wait.

The next day, we stopped at a picturesque restaurant along the highway for a quick lunch between our jam-packed day’s adventures. It was here that we ordered the best (and cheapest) pad thai of the trip. That, along with plates of spicy vegetables and fresh fruit, hit the spot.

Dinner that night was a feast that left me feeling full for hours. From noodles and curry to sweet and sour pork with pineapple, the amount of quality food with such a wide variety of textures and tastes was nearly too overwhelming for my taste buds to handle. I kept eating long after my stomach signaled for me to stop, because who can resist a pineapple filled with pork?

On our final day on the island, we celebrated with a beach side lunch. I chose a traditional dish with prawns, mushrooms and ginger and added on an avocado salad. It was creamy, with tangy vinaigrette and acidic tomatoes. A plate of perfection. I miss avocados so much!

For dinner, we made reservations at Eat Sense, one of the most popular restaurants on the island. The food was amazing, but due to the even more amazing company, I only had the energy to take a photo of the stunningly beautiful surroundings on our walk in. It was the perfect way to end the perfect trip — lots of traditional Thai food, best friends, and red wine before our ride to the airport.

I want to go baaaaack!


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Let me preface this post by saying that not even the approximate 26 hours we spent in various methods of transportation en route to our final destination in Thailand could mar my feelings about this amazing, exotic, tropical and laid-back country. I loved every second of it, even — and especially, at times — the journey.

Evan and I began our adventure on Tuesday night at 7:30 PM, when we bundled up, grabbed some kimbap and chicken strips and braved the snow to hop on a three-hour bus to Seoul, from where we would depart to Thailand early Wednesday morning. Bus travel in Korea is extremely comfortable, so as soon as we hit our seats I snuggled in and tore into our food.

Evan thought it was hilarious that I ate my chicken with chopsticks, but what was I supposed to do? My hands were filthy and not acceptable vehicles to shovel food into my mouth. I’m sure the germaphobes in my family can appreciate that.

Kimbap is a Korean dish that is similar to sushi, but instead of fresh fish wrapped in the rice and seaweed, the roll is filled with egg, various vegetables (typically carrot, spinach and pickled radish) and usually ham. It is delicious and and staple in our diet. We eat it at least two or three times a week. NOM!

Thanks to family visits, my desire for a piping bowl of chili and Evan’s competitive urge to play FIFA, we got only a few hours of sleep before it was 4 AM, and time to catch a bus to the airport. Thankfully, my cousin Tim told us about a bus straight to Incheon that took an hour, which was such a relief because the subway wasn’t running yet and besides, it’s a pain to get to the airport by train.

We waited for our 9 AM flight, watching the sunrise from the gorgeous wall/windows at Seoul Incheon. It is literally the prettiest and most efficient airport I’ve ever been to.

Our first stop was in Shanghai at around 10 AM. The airport was alright, but what really made me uncomfortable was the utter curtness of the airport employees. Everyone seemed beyond annoyed, short and like I was being a total pain in the ass. Hmph.

I feared that this may have been simply the Chinese way, but that was before I had a completely different experience in Beijing. More on that later. We killed time during our 2-hour layover with spicy chicken, onion rings and Asahi (we’ve been on a chicken kick since Christmas Eve). Hee hee.

At 4 PM, we finally arrived in Bangkok! It took 30 minutes to get through security, which was a miracle since everyone and their mother from all around the world decided that was the place to be that afternoon. Before we knew it, we were in a cab to the Bangkok train station. Once at the station, we bought tickets for an overnight train/bus/ferry ride to the island of Koh Samui, where we’d be spending our time. We were sweltering when we got there (it was in the 80s) and had peeled off layers during our trip. After all, it was about 15 degrees when we left Seoul that morning!

We celebrated our arrival with Thai beer and fresh fruit. The sleeper train was amazingly space efficient. We ate more vendor food, chatted, and people watched all the backpackers interacting until a man came around to help us assemble our bunk. As soon as my bed was ready, I crawled in and passed out.

We awoke (well I awoke) at 4 AM, because our ticket said that’s when we’d be transferring to a bus. Well that was before I knew everything ran on “Thai time,” which is roughly 1-1.5 hours late. Eventually we bussed to the pier in Champong, where we boarded a ferry that would take us to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and finally Koh Samui. We caught a gorgeous sunrise at the dock :)

We got to our destination around 1 PM, and were able to relax until more travel excursions the following day. On NYE, we had joined up with Mimi and Matt and made our way to a ferry back to Koh Phangan, where we would celebrate the new year. The ferry was so rocky, the water was choppy and the boat was full of drinking 20-year-olds. You do the math. Eesh.

We took cabs (and I use that term loosely, considering it was a pickup filled with people) to and from the party once on Koh Phangan, which was uneventful until the cab we were leaving in broke down on our way home. Everyone had to get out and push, during which I (of course) ran right out of my flip flop. I had to run back and get it, while the cab started to speed away. I screamed, ran with Mimi, and we barely made it back on. I lept for it, while a guy just swooped Meems on. It was nuts! Oh and when we were ready to leave Koh Phangan, we were at the ferry station before we realized we had 2 hours to wait before the first one. FAIL.

On the island, we got around on little motorbikes. It seemed like the preferred method of transportation for everyone, and it was awesome seeing everything from place to place, and doing activities on our own time. Plus, it was much cheaper than cabbing!

At the end of our amazing vacation, Evan and I boarded our plane to fly from Koh Samui to Bangkok around 9 PM. Once in Bangkok, we hopped aboard a 1 AM flight to Beijing, switched planes with the help of very friendly Chinese locals, and landed back in Seoul at 12 PM. A much shorter ride than the way out. I would have more to say about the seamless trip, but I literally slept for the majority of it. WIN!

In Seoul, we got tickets for the 1 PM bus to Jeonju, grabbed Dunkin Donuts and lamented that our island vacation was over. Evan: Goodbye white beaches, hello white snow. Goodbye 30 degrees celsius, hello 30 degrees farenheit. Me: Wah, waaaaaaahhh. All in all, we were really lucky that no hiccups occured on any planes, trains, buses, cabs, or motorbikes. It was a lot more travel time than the Japan trip, but ran much more smoothly.

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As LCD Soundsystem would say, This is Happening.

For our Christmas break, we’re heading to the beaches of Thailand with two of our very best friends on the entire planet for a week of partying, sun, sand and surf.

Oh, and we’re staying at the most fabulous hotel I’ve ever seen.

Did I mention we’re going to one of the biggest and best parties in the world for New Year’s Eve?

Living the dream…I can’t wait to see Mimi and Matt’s faces !!!

Why can’t Christmas ever come early?

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After a crazy first day of traveling in Tokyo, Evan and I woke up the next morning well-rested and ready to sight see with Mary and her family. The seven of us (Mary, her mother, her brother Nate, her brother John, baby Annika and us) stepped out into a sprinkle of rain and headed for the Kamakura Daibutsu, or the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

A few train rides later, we arrived to the touristy town of Kamakura. It was breathtaking. Ma n’ pop stores lined the street, full of kitschy gifts and authentic Japanese treasures. The yen burned in my pocket, but I was on a strict budget so I ignored its fire… for the most part (I bought a silver fan for our apartment in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist)!

Mary turned out to be the ultimate tour guide! Having lived in Japan since January with her husband Mason Fox (one of Evan’s best friends who is on tour with the Navy) and daughter Annika, she knew lots about our first trip around the city.

Before entering the site with the Buddha, Evan and I were sure to cleanse ourselves.

The Buddha itself was a staggering monument, made entirely of bronze in 1252. It is the second largest Buddha in Japan. The site wasn’t too full of tourists because of the rain, which was nice.

One person put out a watermelon as an offering to the giant diety.

Around the temple, there were various incense burners where you could sweep smoke upon yourself for good luck. There were also small statues of kami, or spirits, housed in small statues around Buddha.

Mary explained that kami were a part of the Shinto religion, which is based on nature. Many Japanese people practice a combination of Shinto and Buddhism — their birth and marriage rituals are Shinto, but funeral processions are Buddhist.

Mt. Fuji, which we weren’t lucky enough to see during the trip (thanks a lot overcast skies) is the ultimate kami.

After poking around at souvenir shops around the Buddha, we headed up the hill in Kamakura to visit the Shinto Hasedera, or Hase Temple dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It was built in the 8th century. I didn’t take any pictures of the shrine of Kannon inside of the temple, out of respect for the religious area and the people praying inside.

The temple was surrounded by a picturesque garden, filled with running water and exotic plants. We even saw a lotus flower blooming, which was really special.

The lotus is sacred, because it is a representation of the stages of enlightenment. It starts dirty, and then grows until it is beautiful and in full bloom.

The temple also had a small shrine dedicated to foxes, behind a red gate (a sign of a sacred Shinto place). It was fun seeing that when we were with the Fox family!

After climbing a windy path alongside the temple, we were met with a breathtaking view of the Pacific ocean. Before leaving, we popped into the Bentenkutsu cave, which had candles and statues of dieties everywhere that gave its surroundings a mysterious aura.

The rain picked up, so we quickly found a Chinese restaurant and slurped down hot soup with noodles and dumplings, the warmness a comfort as the rain and wind howled outside.

That evening, we enjoyed our first Sushi-go-round dinner at a restaurant that Mary said was popular with Navy families when they first arrived in Japan. The fish was fresh, cheap and delicious!

The restaurant was nestled in a large supermarket, which had a 1oo yen (a little over $1) section. I scoured the aisles before finding what I was looking for — BENTO SUPPLIES! I had done it!

It took a good 20 minutes before I was able to whittle everything I wanted down to a reasonable 1,000 yen. Much to everyone’s amusement, I majorly geeked out at all of the little hokey items made special for the lunch boxes. I was lucky I was able to maintain some semblance of self-control, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the room to take everything home! I ended up with egg molders, specialty toothpicks (animals, for fun presentation), silicone cups to separate food, mini animal-shaped bottles to hold liquids in, a pair of chopsticks for both me and Evan, and tiny cookie-cutter type tools to shape my veggies with.

We ended the night with one of my favorite pastimes — a board game! As I’ve gotten older, I have appreciated the social aspects of games with friends so much more. Plus, if you pick the wordy ones (the games English nerds such as me swoon over) you just might learn something too.

We played Banana Grams, which quickly became a new favorite of mine. It is a sort of “speed Scrabble” game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one reason I liked it so much is that I performed pretty well (won 3 out of 4 games, NBD). It is a game that my family would adore, so if you’re reading this you should buy it on Amazon immediately.

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This will be my first of many blog posts about our amazing trip to Japan, which lasted a week and was much too short! Our trip took us on a multitude of planes, trains, one automobile and buses to get from Korea to Japan and back again.

Last Tuesday, after the school day ended, Evan and I hurried home to double-check we had packed everything for our trip to Tokyo and the Fuji Rock Music Festival, then hopped on a bus to Seoul. After arriving to the big city, we gobbled down some American-style food with cousin Tim at Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam (macaroni and cheese! mashed potatoes and gravy!) then hit the hay in preparation for our morning flight.

Getting to Japan was smooth sailing. We left Tim’s with 1.5 hours to spare, which turned out to be perfect timing. Security at the airport was a breeze, and by 12:15 we were in the sky, doing a crossword puzzle for the duration of our 2.5 hour flight.

We had exchanged our won for yen before leaving Jeonju, so we were prepared to travel in Tokyo.

Once we arrived to Narita, we followed our dear friend Mary’s impeccable directions, which took us on a whirlwind of trains to get to her house in the outskirts of Tokyo.

One small hiccup we encountered was on our first train, from Narita Airport into the heart of Tokyo. I, being the genius I am, threw my suitcase into a lock, swiveled around the numbers and pulled the key out — before reading the directions. I spent the next twenty minutes or so moving the numbers one at a time to unlock my bag. Thank god I finally stumbled upon the right combination! Evan was not amused, but was thrilled that I unlocked my bag and we didn’t have to stay on the train until the end of the line to have them cut it out. Yikes.

After a day of sightseeing with the Alderman family, Evan and I took a Shinkansen bullet train to Echigo Yuzawa, where we transferred to a shuttle to take us to Fuji Rock 2010. We started our day at 5:30 AM, so we slept on the train (munching on the sandwiches we had time to buy in Tokyo — food shortage crisis averted).

We suffered through a massive line for the shuttle and made it to the festival around 12. Thanks to Mary’s help, we were able to buy Shinkansen tickets a day ahead of time, so it was all smooth sailing.

Fast forward three days, to when we dragged our tired, muddy and dirty selves back to Tokyo. We woke up early Monday morning to beat the rush of festival goers to the shuttle that would take us back to the train station. After the rain stopped, we quickly wicked the water off of our tent (which stayed dry, thank goodness), packed it up and practically ran to the shuttle. From there we got tickets for another Shinkansen, took local trains around Tokyo and made it back to Mary’s by 1 PM. Pretty impressive!

After another wonderful day-and-a-half with friends, Evan and I began our most challenging travel day yet. Although our feet had been rubbed raw by running around in squishy, soaked sneakers and rubber rain boots, the kicker was about to come.

Like good travelers, Evan and I arrived back to Narita on Tuesday around 4:15 PM, with plenty of time before our 6 PM flight. When we checked in, we were informed that our plane, scheduled to land in Seoul at 8:50 PM, had been delayed an hour and forty-five minutes. Which wouldn’t be a big deal except from Seoul, it is still 3 hours to Jeonju and we had to work the next morning!

We spent our downtime at the airport reading and watching the sun set on Narita.

For some reason, United Airlines took pity on me and bumped me up to a business class seat on a very full flight home. Being the compassionate and awesome girl that I am, I traded Evan — who, at 6’2, is a good 8 inches taller than I am — for his cramped, coach-class seat. He owes me one :P

Once back to Korea, we hurried to the Airport buses only to find we missed one by FIVE MINUTES. Kill me! We didn’t panic though, and hopped a train to the Express Bus Terminal. We made it there by 12:45 — the last bus left Jeonju at 12. At that point, I had blisters all over my feet, I was sweaty and uncomfortable, and I just burst into tears. There isn’t any photographic documentation of my meltdown, but suffice to say that It. Wasn’t. Good. Luckily Evan calmed me down.

We had two options — stay in Seoul and catch a 5:30 AM train to make it to work at 9:30 AM in Jeonju — or take a cab driver’s offer to drive us home for 100,000 won. We needed to get home, so Ev forked over the money, and we tried to sleep as the cabbie flew home.

Now I’m at lunch, ready to take a cat nap because I’m running on empty from our crazy day of traveling yesterday. More details of our trip to come!

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